Michael Griffiths Talks About His Show ‘Michael Griffiths Sings Peter Allen’
Markus Hamence Presents another top-notch show, this time at The Regal Theatre it’s Michael Griffiths Sings Peter Allen. Michael Griffiths is Australia’s Mr Cabaret starring and creating in shows showcasing his versatility and old school charm whether its Cole Porter, Kylie Minogue, Madonna or Peter Allen. A favourite at Fringe time in Adelaide he’s won a Best Cabaret Adelaide Fringe Award in 2014 and received a star on the Adelaide Festival Centre’s Walk of Fame in 2018.
Bringing his Peter Allen show to the art deco vibe of The Regal Theatre will be a spectacular not to be missed. All the well-known hits will be there including some obscure hidden gems and fan favourites. Griffiths chatted to the Hi FI Way about Peter Allen and what audiences can expect from the show.
You’re performing the show Michael Griffiths Sings Peter Allen, are you excited to performing at The Regal Theatre?
I certainly am! I sang at the opening which was I think in October 2020 so it will be two years and I remember that weekend fondly. I mean I used to go to that cinema when I was a kid growing up in Adelaide. I went to Pembroke so we would go there for excursions when it was called The Chelsea. When you’re a teenager you don’t care about architecture or history so to go back two years ago after it was renovated it was breath taking to go in there. It’s such a beautiful venue. So, I have very fond memories of 2020 and two years is a long time between gigs.
So now you’re headlining your own show s what can audiences expect from seeing this show?
As the title suggests I’m doing a whole bunch of Peter Allen songs. I’m bringing along a band as the last few years I’ve been playing with drum and bass but this year I did a new show at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival called Simply Brill which is a rock ‘n roll show and we used a saxophonist. Just last week I was listening to a Peter Allen song and there was a sax solo. So, I thought “Right I’m going to bring in the saxophone!” So, I’ve upped the anti with a four-piece band and it’s basically a celebration of Peter Allen songs and I’m learning a bunch of new songs that I’ve never sung before because I want to keep things exciting and fresh for the audience. As I’ve sung Peter Allen songs before there will definitely be some premières which is very exciting!
I was going to ask you if you will be singing all the classics hits but you’ve now mentioned you’re now doing some new ones because you’ve performed this kind of show at the Adelaide Fringe a few times over the years haven’t you?
I’ve performed a show called Livvy and Pete that I do with my esteemed colleague Amelia Ryan which is a show of songs by Olivia Newton-John and Peter Allen. So, this new show is just an extension of that. There are certainly some songs that cross over and play like a best of but I do want to unearth a few more obscure hidden gems and fan favourites. Also, I’m doing a two hour show so by the nature of it we need to get some more material but its lovely because that means I’m broadening my horizons. Yeah, so Livvy and Pete’s been around for five or six years and I will be performing it at a winery soon. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
I mean they are two well-loved artists!
Well, they were mates and Peter wrote one of her biggest hits I Honestly Love You. It was one of her biggest early hits and it won her, and Peter, a Grammy and I think it was her first number one, but it was certainly a very seminal song for both of their careers. Peter jokes that he bought a house in LA from the royalties! They will forever be connected because of that song, which is a song I will certainly be singing at the show. It’s a song that he had in his repertoire, and it doesn’t have to be gendered even though obviously we think of Olivia Newton-John singing it, but he sang it at his shows, and I will too! I look forward to it as it’s a real winner.
It is a big hit! It’s stood the test of time which most of his songs have so what is so special about Peter Allen’s music that people still love listening to it even to this day?
I think there’s a wonderful sense of sincerity and often you feel he’s writing from the heart. Certainly, I Honestly Love you or Don’t Cry Out Loud and so is I Still Call Australia Home. They are songs that have strong sense of time and place and storytelling. So, I think that’s why they’ve stood the test of time because he’s an artist who is sharing about himself not someone who is writing a hit or for numbers. I think there is an authenticity about the way he writes. I think he was a real pioneer in being an Australian songwriter too back when in American eyes he stood out as being an Australian.
All those songs that you mentioned as well as Tenterfield Saddler are real heart tugging songs so he was an emotional writer and they come across so eloquently as well.
They do and I’m glad you mentioned Tenterfield Saddler because that’s the obvious one. That song is clearly from the heart and so clearly personal. It’s the perfect song as its from the heart but there’s a universality of it too. It’s an Australian story, it’s personal, it’s him but it’s a beautiful melody that’s so timeless that crosses generations, place and time! Obviously, I will be singing that too and very proudly because I will be disappointing a lot of Peter Allen fans if I didn’t sing it! If I say to the audience which song shall I sing and if I haven’t sung that song yet nine times out of ten that’s the song, they request especially in a country town. That’s the one that goes off like a rocket because it’s set in a country town and that makes it special.
What’s your favourite Peter Allen song to perform?
All of them (laughs)
Maybe ask me after November (laughs). Probably after this show I will have a new favourite. It’s a bit like choosing your favourite child. I don’t know…I do like Tenterfield Saddler but I Still Call Australia Home is a really magic song and I always love singing that. Its really pleasing. I resisted singing Peter Allen for so long and it wasn’t until I started working with Carlotta who was really friendly with Peter back in the day and she was insistent I sing Peter Allen. As a male piano singer its such a lovely feel. Like putting on a nice jacket that feels comfy and I think “Why don’t I wear this all the time?”
Do you think because of your style and vocal range those songs are suited to you?
I do! It feels a little self congratulatory but we do have a similar vocal. I sing them all in his key and that’s the one that suits me so yeah, I don’t need to do anything to them except sing them best to my ability. I’ve been watching footage of him recently to do some preparation and he was so energetic. It’s mind blowing almost. He was so high energy and I like to stay at the piano but every opportunity he could he was up kicking a leg or jumping about. Mind you, he was playing with a twenty-piece band so he could jump up but I have to keep playing because I don’t have a second pianist (laughs). He would have a second pianist in the piers so whenever he wanted to, he could stop playing but I don’t have that luxury. But, yeah, he’s quite extraordinary with lots of energy.
I might be showing my age here, but I remember the Panasonic TV ads he did back in the day, and I would stop and watch the ad because he was so mesmerising with him and the piano and that energy we were talking about.
Yes, I remember that ad too! The other thing that’s quite disarming is just how proud a gay he was, and he didn’t do anything to soften his performance. This was the 70s where it was certainly a different time. I think we can all acknowledge to watch him in concert he was this massive homo and I say it with absolute respect and solidarity because these days I feel like I’m the same. Also, in 2022 and it’s not punk or outrageous to be yourself but he was himself when it was clearly subversive. I know record companies were always horrified at his antics as they wanted to paint him as a kind of Billy Joel or a man’s man, and he just wouldn’t fit that mold.
Power to him for being authentic to himself. When you look at him live there’s no mystery about his persuasion (laughs). He’s fabulously camp and every double entendre. He was camp as tits (laughs). Its wonderful! Whether he was wearing feathers or sequins he was wonderfully and delightfully camp.
I think that just shows that when you’re a performer/artist it’s really hard to be something that you’re not. When he’s on stage performing that’s what came out of him. You can pretend or manufacture that kind of action. Audiences are pretty smart and will work it out straight away.
I know from experience that his stage persona was often turned up a dial, but it was still turned up from an authentic place. It was a turned-up version of him. He was really wonderful on stage.
Your show is part of the Feast Festival program, why is the Feast Festival so important for the community?
I think we, the queer community, never need to stop sharing our personal stories. Broadly as human beings, cultural beings we need to share stories. We still need to celebrate each other’s stories whether that’s talking about gender diversity or other issues we still need to celebrate ourselves. People might say that “Oh but Marriage Equality has been passed!” but there’s still prejudice out there and so we can’t stop telling our stories.
Interview by Anastasia Lambis
Tickets to Michael Griffiths Sings Peter Allen show HERE